Wow! Switzerland is amazing!
We had one day of driving through Switzerland on our way from France to Italy. We would have loved to have spent longer than a day in the country but we had accommodation already booked in Northern Italy so for this time it just had to be a ‘passing through’ experience. But what an experience it turned out to be!
I didn’t know much about Switzerland before. I knew there were mountains, it is great for skiing and it is generally pretty expensive. That’s about it. I guess I still don’t know that much about it. We only spent one day driving through, BUT one thing I now know and can say with absolute certainty is that it is unbelievably, breathtakingly beautiful! And after what we saw in that one day, we definitely want to come back in the future (although based on how expensive we found it we may have to sell one of the children first).
It was still dark and raining pretty heavily when we first drove into the country. We drove through several tunnels, assuming we were going through some sort of mountains, but unable to really see anything past our headlights. Then the sun started to rise……… We were on a freeway but surrounded by mountains and lakes and villages. Everywhere we looked (beyond the standard freeway barriers) looked like something off the front of a postcard.
We drove into the city of Lucerne, looking for somewhere to find a cheap bite for breakfast (haha, so naive……….), not sure whether we would stop or not, but once we drove through the centre there was no questioning – we were stopping! After hours in the car we were all pretty desperate for the toilet so as soon as we parked we went searching. We found a huge train station and followed the WC signs. Then we got to the turnstiles. The WC turnstiles. The WC turnstiles that only turn if you pay 2 Swiss Francs! That’s the equivalent of $3 AUD. We had spent the day being budget conscious and drinking free tap water and now it was going to cost us $18 to ‘go’! No way! We made our way to McDonalds, basically walking with our legs half crossed, where we promised to buy something if they would just please give us the code for the toilet. Afterwards we kept our word and bought the smallest, most expensive croissant you’ve ever seen!
Feeling relieved, we walked across to one of the cities landmark locations, The Reuss River and Chapel Bridge. The view was just stunning. Even Anna said immediately that it was the most beautiful city she had ever seen (and she’s seen many)! The whole area was bustling with tourists but we managed to find some free spaces for our little tour group and took some awesome photos!
As we left the city (after painfully forking out way too much money for parking) the views just got more and more spectacular. Mountains and villages everywhere. Little houses with thatched roofs, gorgeous stone buildings covered in ivy, beautiful old churches, all dotted beneath and on extraordinarily green mountains, some going beyond the clouds.
After driving for around an hour we suddenly found ourselves in a traffic jam. We sat, in the blazing sun (it was around 35°), cars and trucks built up as far as we could see in front of us. As we moved forward, at a snail’s pace, we speculated whether it was an accident or road works holding us up. After what felt like an eternity, in our un-airconditioned car, we rounded a corner and saw a tunnel with traffic lights changing frequently allowing a few cars at a time to enter. Strange, we thought……… then, as we entered the tunnel, we discovered why……
We had already driven through several tunnels that day. Built into mountains, some were very short, others went for possibly a kilometre. Well, they were nothing compared to this one! As we drove into the tunnel we saw a sign saying 17km!!!! I think we were in shock. We had just entered a tunnel (which I have since learned is called the Gotthard Tunnel and is the third longest in the world) and we had no option but to drive through it for 17kms.
I would definitely say that I am claustrophobic. I hate enclosed spaces, flat out refuse to ever go down a mine at Sovereign Hill or any other tourist attraction, and always breathe a sigh of relief as I exit an elevator. Well, far out! We were stuck in this tunnel for 17kms! And to make matters worse it was a single lane, two way road with no emergency stopping lane. Sure, there are ‘SOS’ phones throughout, but seriously, that’s not that reassuring when you are inside a mountain with 8kms of tunnel either end of you and trucks and cars racing past at 80km/hour right next to you!
I tried to keep calm for Anna’s sake. She was the only kid awake and she’s a little stress-head like her Mum. As she watched me in the side mirror, I smiled, breathing heavily, my heart racing so fast I wondered if she might be able to see my chest going in and out at an abnormal pace. Peter, who is usually oh-so-calm in any situation, was getting pretty rattled too. I could tell this, not only by how focused he was and how tightly he was clenching the steering wheel, but also by the fact that he couldn’t stop saying things like “This isn’t right”, “They shouldn’t be allowed to have this tunnel, it’s crazy!”, “There should be an emergency stopping lane” “What if a car breaks down or if there’s an accident?”, “Diesel fumes can kill you if you’re stuck in a tunnel”……..this did not help me or Anna at all! The fact that we had been sitting in the sun for so long in a car that, while reliable so far (touch wood), is not the newest, ‘healthiest’ of cars, had him stressing somewhat as to whether it would make it through……. We just kept telling ourselves that thousands upon thousands of cars go through it each day and everything would be fine……..
When we saw that first glimpse of sunlight at the end of the tunnel, the relief was overwhelming. Thinking back, I can honestly liken it to the relief I felt when I finally gave birth after hours of intense contractions! And at least with child birth I’d had nine months to prepare myself. We didn’t even know this tunnel existed until we were seconds away from entering it! That 17km drive was seriously one of the scariest experiences of my life. And yet thousands of people do it every day. Crazy!
We didn’t have time to dwell on that harrowing experience for long because as soon as we exited the tunnel we were overwhelmed by the most stunning mountainous landscape you could ever imagine. It was like a fairy-tale. Spectacular. And as I looked back at the mountain we had just driven out of, the sun burning my face, I saw snow! We had just driven through a snow covered mountain in the Swiss Alps!
The spectacular scenery went on and on. I photographed and filmed, in amazement at what we were experiencing (see photo gallery below!). The kids probably got sick of hearing us oohing and aahing but both of us could not believe what we were seeing. After 300km of driving this amazing road from Basel to Lucerne, then onto Milan, it was a great relief as we descended the last of the mountains into the flats of northern Italy. We had made it through in one piece! And no more tunnels! What we had thought was going to be just a day of driving from one place to another, turned out to be so extraordinarily amazing. Yes, we knew we would see beautiful countryside, we were in Europe after all, but we had no idea that this drive would end up being one of the most amazing experiences we’ve ever had! You just never know what tomorrow will bring………….